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By nine o'clock each night, two dozen or more young women arrive at the La Herminia Night Club, where they exchange stories and perform their final primping before the start of a long evening of blaring merengues, copious amounts of beer and, they hope, a client or two for sex. As a domestic or factory worker, Miss Diaz said, she couldn't earn even a tenth of her nightly income in a week.
In interviews, many other prostitutes expressed similar sentiments. Driven in part by such harsh economic realities, vast stretches of this city have come to be blanketed with prostitution establishments running the gamut from the "Casas de Cita," literally rendezvous houses, where elegantly attired young women await a relatively affluent mix of locals and tourists, to drive-in car washes, which offer quick and cheap sex.
The Dominican authorities and sociologists who study this mushrooming demi-monde estimate that in a city whose population is nearly two million, there are at least 20, prostitutes. This number consists mostly of young women, ranging in age from 16 to 25, they say, but it also includes many men who cater to both sexes and much younger girls as well.
Estimates for the number of prostitutes in the country as a whole run as high as 60, The Export Boom. But, for all the magnitude of the phenomenon, some officials concede that prostitution has only recently begun to be taken seriously as a national problem. And when attention has come at all, it has often focused on concerns that the Dominican Republic is acquiring an unsavory reputation as a major supplier for the sex traffic in countries as far-flung as the Netherlands, Greece, Suriname and neighboring Haiti.
One expert said that in the tiny, tourism-rich Caribbean island of Antigua, there are now 4, Dominican prostitutes among a total of 80, people on the island. About 7, Dominicans are estimated to work in the sex business in Amsterdam. Almost weekly now, newspapers here are filled with articles chronicling the woes of these young women abroad, including the frequent deportation of scores of them for the offense of plying their trade.